"We've waited long enough": Appeals court rules in favor of releasing Trump's tax returns

Trump could still appeal to the Supreme Court — and run out the clock before potential GOP House takeover

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 28, 2022 9:29AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump (Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected former President Donald Trump's bid to reconsider a ruling requiring the Treasury Department to turn over his tax returns.

The full D.C. appeals court denied Trump's request for the court to rehear the case. A three-judge panel on the court in August unanimously denied Trump's appeal of the lower court decision that cleared the way for House Democrats to obtain his tax information from the IRS. The brief order on Thursday said there were no noted dissents.

Trump, who broke with decades of tradition by refusing to publicly release his tax returns, has battled the House Ways and Means Committee over the release for years. The committee first asked the Treasury Department to turn over the tax returns in 2019 after they won control of the House, citing a federal law giving the panel authority to obtain any taxpayer's documents.

The Treasury Department under Trump fought the request until he left office. After President Joe Biden took over, Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal, D-Mass., issued a new request for Trump's tax returns from 2015 to 2020 for an inquiry into how the IRS audits presidential tax returns. The Justice Department issued a memo in July saying that the Treasury is required to turn over the information.

Trump's lawyers sought an injunction to block the request, arguing that it served no legitimate legislative purpose and accusing the committee of political motivations. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, finally issued a ruling in December 2021, two and half years after the House brought the case requiring the department to turn over the records.

"Even if the former president is right on the facts, he is wrong on the law," McFadden wrote. "A long line of Supreme Court cases requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries. Even the special solicitude accorded former presidents does not alter the outcome."

The three-judge appeals panel upheld the ruling in August.

"It is not our place to delve deeper than this," the appeals panel wrote. "The mere fact that individual members of Congress may have political motivations as well as legislative ones is of no moment."

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Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, noted on Twitter that Thursday's ruling came 1,303 days "since we made a legal request for Trump's tax returns — nearly as long as the Civil War."

"Americans deserve to know exactly how far trump's crimes go," he wrote.

Neal in a statement said that the "law has always been on our side."

"Former President Trump has tried to delay the inevitable, but once again, the court has affirmed the strength of our position," he said. "We've waited long enough — we must begin our oversight of the I.R.S.'s mandatory presidential audit program as soon as possible."

But it's not clear that Neal and the Democrats will actually get to see the tax returns if Trump is able to run out the clock.

Trump is likely to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, where at least four justices have to vote to take up the case. "The litigation will almost certainly remain unresolved by January," The New York Times reported, when Republicans are likely to take over the House. "The House under G.O.P. control is virtually certain to drop the request."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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